"In short, then, it has reached these ears, Mr. Hyacinthus, and between you and me, they are not such a pair as, in consequence of their longitudinity, can be copiously shaken, or which rise and fall according to the will of the wearer; like those of the thistle-browser already alluded to; it has reached them that you are about to substantiate a a disreputable—excuse the phrase—co-partnership wid four of the most ornamental villains on Hibernian earth, by which you must understand me to mane that the villains aforesaid are not merely accomplished in all the plain principles and practices of villainy, but finished off even to its natest and most inganious decorations. Their whole life has been most assiduously and successfully devoted to a general violation of the ten commandments, as well as to the perpetual commission of the seven deadly sins. Nay, the 'reserved cases' themselves can't escape them, and it is well known that they wont rest satisfied wid the wide catalogue of ordinary and general iniquity, but they must, by way of luxury, have a lick at blasphemy, and some of the rarer vices, as often as they can, for the villains are so fastidious that they won't put up wid common wickedness like other people. I cannot, however, wid anything approximating to a safe conscience, rest here. What I have said has reference to the laws of God, but what I am about to enumerate relates to the laws of man—to the laws of the land Wid respect, then, to them, I do assure you, that although I myself look upon the violation of a great number of the latter wid a very vanial squint, still, I say, I do assure you that they have not left a single law made by Parliament unfractured. They have gone over the whole statute-book several times, and I believe are absolutely of opinion that the Parliament is doing nothing. The most lynx-eyed investigator of old enactments could not find one which has escaped them, for the villains are perfectly black letter in that respect; and what is in proper keeping wid this, whenever they hear of a new Act of Parliament they cannot rest either night or day until they break it. And now for the inference: be on your guard against this pandemonial squad. Whatever your object may be in cultivating and keeping society wid them, theirs is to ruin you—fleece was the word used—an I then to cut and run, leaving Mr. Hycy—the acute, the penetrating, the accomplished—completely in the lurch. Be influenced, then, by the amicitial admonitions of the inditer of this correspondence. Become not a smuggler—forswear poteen. The Lord forgive me, Mr. Hycy—no, I only wished to say forswear—not the poteen—but any connection wid the illegal alembic from which it is distillated, otherwise they will walk off wid the 'doublings,' or strong liquor, leaving you nothing but the residuum or feints. Take a friend's advice, therefore, and retrograde out of all society and connection wid the villains I have described; or if you superciliously overlook this warning, book it down as a fact that admits of no negation, that you will be denuded of reputation, of honesty, and of any pecuniary contingencies that you may happen to possess. This is a sincere advice from
"Your Anonymous Friend,
"Patricius O'Finigan, Philomath."
After perusing this characteristic production, Hycy paused for a little, and felt it very probable that there might be some reasonable grounds for its production, although he could scarcely understand upon what motive these fellows should proceed to practice treachery towards him. That they were without principle or honesty he was perfectly satisfied; but he knew it was their interest to keep within bounds in all matters connected with their employment, He laughed very heartily at Finigan's blunder—for such it evidently was—in signing his name to a document that he intended to be anonymous.
"At all events," thought he, "I will ride over to his 'seminary,' as he calls it, and see what he can mean, or what his object is in sending me such a warning."
He accordingly did so, and in some twenty minutes reached a small cabin that stood about a couple of hundred yards from the high-road. A little bridle way led to it, as did several minor pathways, each radiating from a different direction. It was surrounded by four or five acres of common, where the children played from twelve to one, at which hour Mr. O'Finigan went to the house of some wealthy benefactor to dine. The little village of Ballydruthy, at a short distance from which it stood, was composed of a couple dozen dwelling-houses, a chapel, a small grocer's and publican's, together with a Pound at the entrance, through which ran a little stream necessary to enable the imprisoned cattle to drink.
On riding up to the school, Hycy, as he approached the door, heard his own name repeated by at least two dozen voices.
"Here's a gintleman, masther"—"It's Misther Hycy Burke, sir "—"It is, bedad, sir, Hycy the sportheen—"
"Him that rides the race, masther"—"Ay, an' he has on top-boots and buckskins, an's as gran' as a gintleman—"
"Silence!" said Finigan, "silence! I say; is this proper scholastic decorum in the presence of a stranger? Industry and taciturnity, you reptiles, or castigation shall result. Here, Paddy Sparable," he added, rising up—"here, you nailroad, assume my office, and rule the establishment till I return; and, mark me, as the son of a nailer, sirra, I expect that you will rule them with a rod of iron—ha! ha! ha!"
"Ay, but Paddy Pancake's here to-day, sir, an' he's able to welt me; so that's it's only leathered I'd get, sir, i' you plase."
"But have you no officers? Call in aid, I ordher you. Can't you make Sam Scaddhan and Phiddher Mackleswig there two policeman get Pancake down—flatten him—if he prove contumacious during my absence. Pancake, mark me, obedience is your cue, or, if not, the castigator here is your alternative; there it is, freshly cut—ripe and ready—and you are not to be told, at this time o' day, what portion of your corpus will catch it. Whish-h-h!—silence! I say. How do you do, Mr. Burke? I am proud of a visit from you, sir; perhaps you would light down and examine a class. My Greeks are all absent to-day; but I have a beautiful class o' Romans in the Fourth Book of Virgil—immortal Maro. Do try them, Mr. Hycy; if they don't do Dido's death in a truly congenial spirit I am no classic. Of one thing I can assure you, that they ought; for I pledge my reputation it is not the first time I've made them practice the Irish cry over it. This, however, was but natural; for it is now well known to the learned that, if Dido herself was not a fair Hibernian, she at least spoke excellent Irish. Ah, Mr. Hycy," he added, with a grin, "the birch is the only pathetic switch growing! Will you come in, sir?"
"No, thank you, Mr. Finigan; but perhaps you would have the goodness to come out for a little;" and, as he spoke, he nodded towards the public-house. "I know the boys will be quiet until you return."
"If they don't," replied Finigan, "the alternative is in no shape enigmatical. Mark what I've already said, gintlemen. Sparable, do you keep a faithful journal of the delinquents; and observe that there are offices of importance in this world besides flagellating erudition into reptiles like you."
He then looked about him with an air of vast importance, and joined Hycy on his way to the public-house. Having ordered in the worthy pedagogue's favorite beverage, not forgetting something of the same kind for himself, he addressed Finigan as follows:—
"Finigan, I received a devilish queer letter from you to-day—take your liquor in the mean time—what did you mean by it?"
"From me, Mr. Hycy—nego, I say—pugnis et calc bu nego."
"Come, come, you know you wrote me an anonymous letter, referring to some ridiculous copartnership or other that I can neither make head nor tail of. Tell me candidly what you meant."
"Very good, Mr. Burke; but sure I know of old that jocularity was always your forte—even when laying in under my own instruction that sound classical substratum on which the superstructure of your subsequent knowledge was erected, you were always addicted to the facetious and the fabulous—both of which you contrived to blend together with an ease and volubility of language that could not be surpassed."
"That is all very well; but you need not deny that you wrote me the letter. Let me ask you seriously, what was it you warned me against?"
"Propino tibi salulem—here's to you. No, but let me ask you what you are at, Mr. Hycy? You may have resaved an anonymous letter, but I am ignorant why you should paternize it upon me."
"Why, because it has all the marks and tokens of you."
"Eh?—to what does that amount? Surely you know my handwriting?"
"Perfectly; but this is disguised evidently."
"Faith," said the other, laughing, "maybe the inditer of it was disguised when he wrote it."
"It might be," replied Hycy; "however, take your liquor, and in the mean time I shall feel exceedingly obliged to you, Mr. Finigan, if you will tell me the truth at once—whether you wrote it or whether you did not?"
"My response again is in the negative," replied Finigan—"I disclaim it altogether. I am not the scribe, you may rest assured of it, nor can I say who is."
"Well, then," said Hycy, "I find I must convict you yourself of the fabulous at least; read that," said he, placing the letter in his own hands. "Like a true Irishman you signed your name unconsciously; and now what have you to say for yourself?"
"Simply," replied the other, "that some knave, of most fictitious imagination, has forged my name to it. No man can say that that is my manuscription, Mr. Hycy." These words he uttered with great coolness; and Hycy, who was in many things a shrewd young fellow, deemed it better to wait until the liquor, which was fast disappearing, should begin to operate. At length, when about three-quarters of an hour had passed, he resolved to attack his vanity.
"Well, well, Finigan, as regards this letter, I must say I feel a good deal disappointed."
"Why so, Mr. Hycy?"
"Why, because I did not think there was any other man in the country who could have written it."
"Eh? how is that now?"
"Faith, it's very simple; the letter is written with surprising ability—the language is beautiful—and the style, like the land of Canaan, flowing with milk and honey. It is certainly a most uncommon production."
"Now, seriously, do you think so? At all events, Mr. Hycy, it was written by a friend of yours—that's a clear case."
"I think so; but what strikes me is its surprising ability; no wonder the writer should say that he is not unknown to fame—he could not possibly remain in obscurity."
"Mr. Hycy, your health—I remember when you were wid me you certainly were facile princeps for a ripe judgment, even in your rudiments; so then, you are of opinion that the epistle in question has janius? I think myself it is no everyday production; not I believe such as the thistle-browser Heffernan, or Misther Demosthenes M'Gosther could achieve—the one wid his mile and a half, and the other wid his three townlands of reputation. No, sir, to the divil I pitch them both; they could never indite such a document. Your health, Mr. Hycy—propino tibi, I say; and you are right, ille ego—it's a a fact; I am the man, sir—I acknowledge the charge."
This admission having been made, we need scarcely add that an explanation was at at once given by Finigan of the motive which had induced him to write the letter.
"On laving the kemp," said he, "and getting into the open air—sub diu, Mr. Hycy—I felt a general liquidation of my whole bodily strength, with a strong disposition to make short excursions to the right or to the left rather than hold my way straight a-head, with, I must confess, an equal tendency to deposit my body on my mother earth and enact the soporiferous. On passing Gerald Cavanagh's kiln, where the Hogans kennel, I entered, and was greeted wid such a chorus of sternutation as you might expect from a pigsty in midsummer, and made me envy the unlicked young savages who indulged in it. At the period spoken of neither you nor they had come in from the kemp. Even this is but a dim recollection, and I remember nothing more until I overheard your voice and theirs in dialogue as you were about to depart. After you went, I heard the dialogue which I hinted at in the letter, between Teddy Phats and them; and knowing my position and the misbegotten satyrs by whom I was surrounded, I patiently waited until they were asleep, when I quietly took my departure."
Burke could not help inferring from Finigan's manner, that he had overheard a greater portion of their conversation on the occasion alluded to than he seemed disposed to acknowledge.
"Now, Finigan," he said, "I feel disposed to place every confidence in you. Will you answer candidly the question I am about to propose to you? Did you hear Bryan M'Mahon's name mentioned?"
"You say, Mr. Hycy," replied Finigan, emptying his glass, "that you would enthertain no apprehension in placing confidence in me?"
"Not the slightest," replied Hycy; "I believe you to be the very soul of honor; and, besides, are you not my old master? As you say yourself, did I not break grammatical ground, under you?"
"The soul of honor," replied the pedagogue, complacently—"that is excellently said. Well, then, Mr. Burke, I shall not deal out my confidence by beggarly instalments—I did hear Bryan M'Mahon's name mentioned; and I heard a plan alluded to between you and them for reducing him to—"
"That was all humbug, Finigan, so far as I am concerned; but for the present I am obliged to let them suppose what you allude to, in order to keep them honest to myself if I can. You know they have a kind of hereditary hatred against the M'Mahons; and if I did not allow them to take their own way in this, I don't think I could depend on them."
"Well, there is raison in that too," replied Finigan.
"I am sure, Finigan," proceeded Hycy, "that you are too honorable a man to breathe either to Bryan M'Mahon or any one else, a single syllable of the conversation which you overheard merely by accident. I say I am certain you will never let it transpire, either by word of mouth or writing. In me you may always calculate on finding a sincere friend; and of this let me assure you, that your drink, if everything goes right with us, won't cost you much—much! not a penny; if you had two throats instead of one—as many necks as Hydra, we should supply them all."
"Give me your hand, Mr. Hycy—you are a gintleman, and I always said would be one—I did, sir—I prognosticated as much years ago; and sincerely felicitous am I that my prognostications have been verified for so far. I said you would rise—that exaltation was before you—and that your friends might not feel at all surprised at the elevated position in which you will die. Propino tibi, again—and do not fear that ever revelation of mine shall facilitate any catastrophe that may await you."
Hycy looked keenly into the schoolmaster's face as he uttered the last observation; but in the maudlin and collapsed features then before him he could read nothing that intimated the sagacity of a double meaning. This satisfied him; and after once more exacting from Finigan a pledge of what he termed honorable confidence, he took his departure.
CHAPTER IX.—A Little Polities, Much Friendship, and Some Mystery
This communication determined Hycy to forego his intention for the present, and he consequently allowed the summer and autumn to pass without keeping up much intercourse with either Teddy Phats or the Hogans. The truth is, that Burke, although apparently frank and candid, was constitutionally cautious, and inclined a good deal to suspicion. He feared that no project, the knowledge of which was held in common with Finigan, could be long kept a secret; and for that reason he make up his mind to postpone the matter, and allow it to die away out of the schoolmaster's mind ere he bestowed any further attention upon it. In the meantime, the state of the country was gradually assuming a worse and more depressing character. The season was unfavorable; and although we do not assert that many died of immediate famine, yet we know that hundreds—nay, thousands—died from the consequences of scarcity and destitution—or, in plainer words, from fever and other diseases induced by bad and insufficient food, and an absence of the necessary comforts of life. Indeed, at the period of our narrative, the position of Ireland was very gloomy; but when, we may ask, has it been otherwise, within the memory of man, or the records of history? Placed as the country was, emigration went forward on an extensive scale,—emigration, too, of that peculiar description which every day enfeebles and impoverishes the country, by depriving her of all that approaches to anything like a comfortable and independent yeomanry. This, indeed, is a kind of depletion which no country can bear long; and, as it is, at the moment we are writing this, progressing at a rate beyond all precedent, it will not, we trust, be altogether uninteresting to inquire into some of the causes that have occasioned it. Let not our readers apprehend, however, that we are about to turn our fictitious narrative into a dissertation on political economy. Of course the principle cause of emigration is the poverty and depressed state of the country; and it follows naturally, that whatever occasions our poverty will necessarily occasion emigration. The first cause of our poverty then, is Absenteeism, which, by drawing six or seven millions out of the country, deprives our people of employment and means of life to that amount. The next is the general inattention of Irish landlords to the state and condition of their own property, and an inexcusable want of sympathy with their tenantry, which, indeed, is only a corollary from the former; for it can hardly be expected that those who wilfully neglect themselves will feel a warm interest in others. The next is the evil of subletting, by which property becomes overloaded with human beings, who, for the most part, are bound by no ties whatsoever to the owner of the soil. He is not their landlord, nor are they his tenants; and so far from their interests being in any way reciprocal, they are actually adversative. It is his interest to have them removed, and, as circumstances unfortunately stand, it is theirs to remain, inasmuch as their alternative is ruin since they have no place of shelter to receive them.
Political corruption, in the shape of the forty-shilling franchise, was another cause, and one of the very worst, which led to the prostration of the country by poverty and moral degradation, and for this the proprietors of the soil are solely responsible. Nor can the use of the potato, as the staple food of the laboring classes, in connection with the truck system, and the consequent absence of money payments, in addition to the necessary ignorance of domestic and social comforts that resulted from them, be left out of this wretched catalogue of our grievances. Another cause of emigration is to be found in the high and exorbitant rents at which land is held by all classes of farmers—with some exceptions we admit, as in the case of old leases—but especially by those who hold under middlemen, or on the principle of subletting generally. By this system a vast deal of distress and petty but most harrassing oppression is every day in active operation upon the property of the head landlord, which he can never know, and for which he is in no other way responsible unless by having ever permitted the existence of it for any purpose whatsoever.
In a country distracted like Ireland, it would be impossible to omit the existence of political and religious animosity as a strong and prominent cause of our wretched poverty, and consequently of emigration. The priest, instead of leaving temporal affairs to temporal men, most improperly mingles himself in the angry turmoils of politics, to which, by his interference, he communicates a peculiar and characteristic bitterness. The landlord, on the other hand, having his own interests to consult, does not wish to arm a political opponent with such powers as he knows will most assuredly be turned against himself, and consequently often refuses to grant a lease unless to those who will pledge themselves to support him. This state of things, involving, as it does, much that is wrong on both sides, is, has been, and will be, a present and permanent curse to the country—a curse, too, which, until there is more of humanity and justice on the one side, and of education and liberal feeling on the other, is not likely to disappear from the country.
Though last, not least, comes the unaccountable and guilty neglect of our legislature (if we can call it ours) in everything that pertained to Irish interests. This, together with its almost necessary consequence of dishonest agitation on the one hand, and well founded dissatisfaction on the other, nearly completes the series of the causes which have produced the poverty of the country, and, as a direct result, the emigration of all that is most comfortable, independent, and moral among us.
This poverty, arising, as it does, from so many causes, has propagated itself with a rapidity which is startling; for every one knows that poverty is proverbially prolific. And yet it is a grievous anomaly to reflect that a country so far steeped in misery and destitution as to have nearly one-half of its population in a state of most pitiable pauperism, possesses a soil capable of employing and maintaining three times the number of its inhabitants. When the causes, however, which we have just enumerated are seriously looked at and considered, we think its extraordinary result is, after all, so very natural, that the wonder would indeed be were the state of Ireland otherwise than it is. As matters stand at present, and as they are likely to continue, unless parliament shall interfere by a comprehensive measure of legislation, we must only rest contented with seeing the industrious, moral, and respectable portion of our countrymen abandoning the land of their birth and affections, and nothing but the very dregs—degraded alike by idleness and immorality—remaining behind to multiply and perpetuate their own wretchedness and degradation.
It has been often said, and with great truth, that no man is more devotedly attached to his native soil than an Irishman; yet it may reasonably be asked, how this principle of attachment can be reconciled with the strong tendency to emigration which characterizes our people. We reply, that the tendency in question is a proof of the love of honest industry, enterprise, and independence, by which our countrymen, when not degraded by neglect and poverty, are actuated. It is not of this class, however so degraded, that we now speak. On the contrary we take the decent and respectable farmer as the subject of our illustration—the man who, loving his native fields as if they were of his blood, would almost as soon part with the one as the other. This man it is, who, with the most child-like tenderness of affection towards the land on which he and his have lived for centuries, will, nevertheless, the moment he finds himself on the decline, and with no cheering hope of prosperity or encouragement before him or his family, resolutely determine to forget everything but the noble duties which he owes to himself and them. He sees clearly, from the unhappy state of the country, and the utter want of sympathy and attention which he experiences at the hands of those who ought to have his interests at heart, that if he attempt to hold his position under circumstances so depressing and unfavorable, he must gradually sink, until he and his become mingled with the great mass of pauperism which lies lik a an incubus upon the energies of the country. What, therefore, can possibly prove more strongly than this that the Irishman who is not dragged into the swamp of degradation, in which hope and energy are paralyzed, is strongly and heroically characterized by I those virtues of industry and enterprise that throw their lustre over social life?
There are other and still more indefensible causes, however, which too frequently drive the independent farmer out of the country. In too many cases it happens that the rapacity and dishonesty of the agent, countenanced or stimulated by the necessities and reckless extravagance of the landlord, fall, like some unwholesome blight, upon that enterprise and industry which would ultimately, if properly encouraged, make the country prosperous and her landed proprietors independent men. We allude to the nefarious and monstrous custom of ejecting tenants who have made improvements, or, when permitted to remain, making them pay for the improvements which they have made. A vast proportion of this crying and oppressive evil must be laid directly to the charge of those who fill the responsible situation of agents to property in Ireland, than whom in general there does not exist, a more unscrupulous, oppressive, arrogant, and dishonest class of men. Exceptions of course there are, and many, but speaking of them as a body, we unhappily assert nothing but what the condition of property, and of those who live upon it, do at this moment and have for many a year testified.
Several months had now elapsed, and although the M'Mahons had waited upon the agent once or twice since the interview which we have already described between him and Tom, yet there seemed no corresponding anxiety on the part of Fethertonge to have the leases prepared or executed. This neglect or reluctance did not occasion much uneasiness to the old man, who was full of that generous and unsuspecting confidence that his countrymen always repose in the promise of a landlord respecting a lease, which they look upon, or did at least, as something absolutely inviolable and sacred, as indeed it ought to be. Bryan, however, who, although a young man, was not destitute of either observation or the experience which it bestows, and who, moreover, had no disposition to place unlimited confidence in Fethertonge, began to entertain some vague suspicions with reference to the delay. Fethertonge, however, had not the reputation of being a harsh man, or particularly unjust in his dealings with the world; on the contrary, he was rather liked than otherwise; for so soft was the melody of his voice, and so irresistible the friendship and urbanity of his manner, that many persons felt as much gratified by the refusal of a favor from him as they did at its being granted by another. At length, towards the close of October, Bryan himself told his father that he would, call upon the agent and urge him to expedite the matter of the leases. "I don't know how it is," said he, "but some way or other I don't feel comfortable about this business: Fethertonge is very civil and very dacent, and is well spoken of in general; but for all that there's always a man here an' there that says he's not to be depended on."
"Troth an' he is to be depended on," said his generous father; "his words isn't like the words of a desaver, and it isn't till he shows the cloven foot that I'll ever give in that he's, dishonest."
"Well," said Bryan, "I'm sure I for one hope you may be right; but, at any rate, as he's at home now I'll start and see him."
"Do then," said his father, "bekaise I know you're a favorite of his; for he tould me so wid his own lips."
"Well," replied the other, laughing, "I hope you're right there too; I'm sure I have no objection;" and he accordingly set out to see Fethertonge, but with something of an impression that the object of his visit was not likely to be accomplished without difficulty, if accomplished at all.
On reaching the agent's house he met a thin, tall man, named Clinton, with a hooked nose and sinister aspect, riding down the avenue, after having paid Fethertonge a visit. This person was the gauger of the district, a bachelor and a man of considerable wealth, got together, it is suspected, by practices that were not well capable of bearing the light. His family consisted of a niece and a nephew, the latter of whom had recently become a bosom friend of the accomplished Hycy Burke, who, it was whispered, began to look upon Miss Clinton with a partial eye. Hycy had got acquainted with him at the Herringstown races, where he, Hycy, rode and won a considerable sweepstakes; and as both young gentlemen were pretty much of the same habits of life, a very warm intimacy had, for some time past, subsisted between them. Clinton, to whom M'Mahon was known, addressed him in a friendly manner, and, after some chat, he laid the point of his whip gently upon Bryan's shoulder, so as to engage his attention.
"M'Mahon," said he, "I am glad I have met you, and I trust our meeting will be for your good. You have had a dispute with Hycy Burke?"
"Why, sir," replied Bryan, smiling, "if I had it wasn't such as it was worth his while to talk about."
"Well, M'Mahon, that's generously said on your part—now, listen to me; don't allow yourself to be drawn into any illegal or illicit proceedings by any one, friend or foe—if so, you will only put yourself into the power of your enemies; for enemies you have, I can assure you."
"They say, sir, there is no one without them," replied Bryan, smiling; "but so far as I am consarned, I don't exactly understand what you mane. I have no connection with anything, either illegal or—or—wrong in any way, Mr. Clinton, and if any one tould you so, they spoke an untruth."
"Ay, ay," said Clinton, "that may be so, and I hope it is so; but you know that it could not be expected you would admit it even if it be true. Will you in the mean time, be guided by a friend? I respect your father and his family; I respect yourself, M'Mahon; and, consequently, my advice to you is—keep out of the meshes of the law—avoid violating it—and remember you have enemies. Now think of these words, and so good-bye, M'Mahon! Indeed, I am glad for your own sake I met you—good-bye!"
As he uttered the last words he dashed on and left Bryan in a state of perfect amazement at the strange and incomprehensible nature of the communication he had just received. Indeed, so full was his mind of the circumstance, that forgetting all his suspicions of Fethertonge, and urged by the ingenuous impulse of an honest heart, he could not prevent himself in the surprise and agitation of the moment from detailing the conversation which he had just had with the gauger.
"That is singular enough," said Fethertonge—"he named Hycy Burke, then?"
"He did, sir."
"It is singular," proceeded the other, as if speaking to himself; "in truth, my dear M'Mahon, we were talking about you, discussing, in fact, the same subject not many minutes ago; and what you tell me now is only an additional proof that Clinton, who is sometimes harshly spoken of by the way, is a straightforward, honest man."
"What could he mane, sir?" asked Bryan, "I never had anything to do contrary to the law—I haven't now, nor do I ever intend to have—"
"Well, I'm sure I do not know," replied the agent: "he made no illusion of that kind to me, from a generous apprehension, I dare say, lest he might injure you in my opinion. He only desired me not rashly to listen to anything prejudicial to your character; for that you had enemies who were laboring to injure you in some way—but how—he either would not tell, or perhaps did not know. I am glad, however, he mentioned it; for I shall be guarded should I hear anything to your prejudice."
"I tell you beforehand, sir," said Bryan, with the conscious warmth of rectitude, "and I think I ought to know best, that if you ever hear anything against my honesty or want of principle, or if any one should say that I will be consarned in what's contrary to either law or justice, you'll hear a falsehood—I don't care who it comes from—and the man who tells you so is a liar."
"I should be sorry to believe otherwise, my dear Bryan; it would grieve me to be forced to believe otherwise. If you suffer yourself to be drawn into anything wrong or improper, you will be the first individual of your family that ever brought a stain upon it. It would grieve me—deeply would it grieve me, to witness such a blot upon so honest—but no, I will not, for I cannot suppose it."
Bryan, whose disposition was full of good-nature and cheerfulness, could not help bursting into a hearty laugh, on reverting to the conversation which he had with Clinton, and comparing it with that in which they were now engaged; both of which were founded upon some soap-bubble charge of which he knew nothing.
"You take it lightly," said Fethertonge, with something of a serious expression; "but remember, my dear Bryan, that I now speak as one interested in, and, in fact, representing the other members of your family. Remember, at all events, you are forewarned, and, in the meantime, I thank Clinton—although I certainly would not have mentioned names. Bryan, you can have no objection that I should speak to your father on this subject?"
"Not the slightest, sir," replied Bryan; "spake to any one you like about it; but, putting that aside, sir, for the present—about these leases?"
"Why, what apprehension have you about them, Byran?"
"No apprehension, sir, sartinly; but you know yourself, Mr. Fethertonge, that to a man like me, that's layin' out and expendin' money every day upon Adaharra farm, and my father the same way upon Carriglass—I say, to a man like me, to be layin' out his money, when you know yourself that if the present landlord should refuse to carry his father's dying words into effect—or, as you said this minute yourself, sir, if some enemy should turn you against me, amn't I and my father and the whole family liable to be put out, notwithstanding all the improvements we've made, and the money we've spent in makin' them?"
"Bryan," said Fethertonge, after a pause, "every word you say is unfortunately too true—too true—and such things, are a disgrace to the country; indeed, I believe, they seldom occur in any country but this. Will it in the mean time satisfy you when I state that, if old Mr. Chevydale's intentions are not carried into effect by his son, I shall forthwith resign my agency?"
Bryan's conscience, generous as he was, notwithstanding his suspicions, smote him deeply on hearing this determination so unequivocally expressed. Indeed the whole tenor of their dialogue, taken in at one view—especially Fethertonge's intention of speaking to Tom M'Mahon upon the mysterious subject of Bryan's suspected delinquencies against the law—so thoroughly satisfied him of the injustice he had rendered Fethertonge, that he was for a time silent.
At length he replied—"That, sir, is more than we could expect; but at any rate there's one thing I'm now sartin of—that, if we're disappointed, you won't be the cause of it."
"Yes; but of course you must put disappointment out of the question. The landlord, will, without any doubt, grant the leases—I am satisfied of that; indeed, there can be no doubt about it. By the way, I am anxious to see Ahadarra and to ascertain the extent to which you have carried your improvements. Clinton and I will probably take a ride up there some day soon; and in the meantime do you keep improving, M'Mahon, for that's the secret of all success—leave the rest to me. How is your father?"
"Never was better, sir, I'm thankful to you."
"And your grandfather? how does he bear up?"
"Faith, sir, wonderfully, considering his age."
"He must be very old now?"
"He's ninety-four, sir, and that's a long age sure enough; but I'm sorry to say that my mother's health isn't so well."
"Why, what is the matter with her? I'm sorry to hear this."
"Indeed we can't say; she's very poorly—her appetite is gone—she has a cough, an' she doesn't get her rest at night."
"Why don't you get medical advice?"
"So we did, sir. Dr. Sexton's attendin' her; but I don't think somehow that he has a good opinion of her."
"Sexton's a skilful man, and I don't think she could be in better hands; however, Bryan, I shall feel obliged if you will send down occasionally to let me know how she gets on—once a week or so."
"Indeed we will, sir, an' I needn't say how much we feel obliged to you for your kindness and good wishes."
"It must be more than good wishes, Bryan; but I trust that she will get better. In the meantime leave the other matters to me, and you may expect Clinton and I up at your farm to look some of these days."
"God forgive me," thought Bryan, as he left the hall-door, "for the injustice I did him, by supposin' for one minute that he wasn't disposed to act fairly towards us. My father was right; an' it was foolish of me to put my wit against his age an' experience. Oh, no, that man's honest—there can;t be any mistake about it."
From this topic he could not help reverting, as he pursued his way home, to the hints he had received with respect to Hycy Burke's enemity towards him, the cause of which he could not clearly understand. Hycy Burke had, in general, the character of being a generous, dashing young fellow, with no fault unless a disposition to gallantry and a thoughtless inclination for extravagance; for such were the gentle terms in which habits of seduction and an unscrupulous profligacy in the expenditure of money were clothed by those who at once fleeced and despised him, but who were numerous enough to impress those opinions upon a great number of the people. In turning over matters as they stood between them, he could trace Burke's enemity to no adequate cause; nor indeed could he believe it possible that he entertained any such inveterate feeling of hostility against him. They had of late frequently met, on which occasion Hycy spoke to him with nearly as much cordiality as ever. Still, however, he could not altogether free himself from the conviction, that both Clinton and Fethertonge must have had unquestionable grounds for the hints which they had in such a friendly way thrown out to him.
In this mood he was proceeding when he heard the noise of horses' feet behind, and in a few minutes Hycy himself and young Clinton overtook him at a rapid pace. Their conversation was friendly, as usual, when Bryan, on seeing Hycy about to dash off at the same rapid rate, said, "If you are not in a particular hurry, Hycy, I'd wish to have a word with you."
The latter immediately pulled up, exclaiming, "a word, Bryan! ay, a hundred—certainly. Clinton, ride on a bit, will you? till I have some conversation with M'Mahon. Well, Bryan?"
"Hycy," proceeded Bryan, "I always like to be aboveboard. Will you allow me to ask if you have any bad feelings against me?"
"Will you answer me another question?" replied Hycy.
"If I can I will," said Bryan.
"Well, then,"'replied Hycy, "I will answer you most candidly, Bryan—not the slightest; but I do assure you that I thought you had such a feeling against me."
"And you wor right, too," returned Bryan "for I really had."
"I remember," proceeded Hycy, "that when I asked you to lend me thirty-five pounds—and by the way that reminds me that I am still pretty deep in your debt—you would neither lend it nor give any satisfactory reason why you refused me; now, what occasioned that feeling, Bryan?"
"It's by the merest chance that I happen to have the cause of it in my pocket," replied M'Mahon, who, as he spoke, handed him the letter which Peety Dhu had delivered to him from Hycy himself. "Read that," said he, "and I think you'll have no great trouble in understanding why I felt as I did;—an' indeed, Hycy, to tell you the truth, I never had the same opinion of you since." Hycy, to his utter amazement, read as follows:
"My Dear Miss Cavanagh:—
"Will you permit little Cupid, the god of Love, to enrol the name of Hycy Burke on the long list of your adorers? And if you could corrupt the little stone-blind divinity to blot out every name on it but my own, I should think that a very handsome anticipation of the joys of Paradise could be realized by that delightful fact. I say anticipation—for my creed is, that the actual joys of Paradise exist no where, but within the celestial circle of your ambrosial arms. That is the Paradise which I propose to win; and you may rest assured that I shall bring the most flaming zeal, the most fervent devotion, and all the genuine piety of a true worshipper, to the task of attaining it. I shall carry, for instance, a little Bible of Love in my pocket—for I am already a divinity student or a young collegian under little Cupid aforesaid—and I will have it all dogeared with refreshing texts for my edification. I should state, however, that I am, as every good Christian is, awfully exclusive in my creed; and will suffer no one, if I can prevent it, to approach the Paradise I speak of but myself. In fact I am as jealous as the very Deuce—whoever that personage may be—quite an Othello in my way—a perfect raw-head-and-bloody-bones—with a sharp appetite and teeth like a Walrus, ready to bolt my rivals in dozens. It is said, my divine creature, or rather it is hinted, that a certain clodhopping boor, from the congenial wilds of Ahadarra, is favored by some benignant glances from those lights of yours that do mislead the moon. I hope this is not so—bow wow!—ho! ho!—I smell the blood of a rival; and be he great or small, red or black, or of any color in the rainbow, I shall have him for my. breakfast—ho! ho! You see now, my most divine Kathleen, what a terrible animal to all rivals and competitors for your affections I shall be; and that if it were only for their own sakes, and to prevent carnage and cannibalism, it will be well for you to banish them once and forever, and be content only with myself.
"Seriously, my dear Kathleen, I believe I am half-crazed; and, if so, you are the sole cause of it. I can think of no other object than your beautiful self; and I need scarcely say, that I shall have neither peace nor happiness unless I shall be fortunate enough to gain a place in your tender bosom. As for the Ahadarra man, I am surprised you should think of such an ignorant clodhopper—a fellow whose place Providence especially allotted to between the stilts of a plough, and at the tail of a pair of horses. Perhaps you would be kind enough to take a walk on Thursday evening, somewhere near the river—where I hope I shall have an opportunity of declaring my affection for you in person. At all events I shall be there with the ardent expectation of meeting you.
"Ever your devoted worshipper,
"P.S.—Beware the clodhopper—bow wow!—ho! ho!"
On looking at the back of this singular production he was thunderstruck to perceive that it was addressed to "Mr. Bryan M'Mahon, Ahadarra"—the fact being that, in the hurry of the moment, he had misdirected the letters—Bryan M'Mahon having received that which had been intended for Kathleen, who, on the contrary, was pressingly solicited to lend him thirty-fine pounds in order to secure "Crazy Jane."
Having perused this precious production, Hycy, in spite of his chagrin, was not able to control a most irresistible fit of laughter, in which he indulged for some minutes. The mistake being now discovered in Bryan's case was necessarily discovered in that of both, a circumstance which to Hycy, who now fully understood the mature and consequences of his blunder, was, as we have stated, the subject of extraordinary mirth, in which, to tell the truth, Bryan could not prevent himself from joining him.
"Well, but after all, Bryan," said he, "what is there in this letter to make you angry with me? Don't you see it's a piece of humbug from beginning to end."
"I do, and I did," replied Bryan; "but at that time I had never spoken upon the subject of love or marriage to Kathleen Cavanagh, and I had no authority nor right to take any one to task on her account, but, at the same time, I couldn't even then either like or respect, much less lend money to, any man that could humbug her, or treat such a girl with disrespect—and in that letther you can't deny that you did both."
"I grant," said Hycy, "that it was a piece of humbug certainly, but not intended to offend her."
"I'm afraid there was more in it, Hycy," observed Bryan; "an' that if she had been foolish or inexperienced enough to meet you or listen to your discourse, it might a' been worse for herself. You were mistaken there though."
"She is not a girl to be humbugged, I grant, Bryan—very far from it, indeed; and now that you and she understand each other I will go farther for both your sakes, and say, that I regret having written such a letter to such an admirable young woman as she is. To tell you the truth, Bryan, I shall half envy you the possession of such a wife."
"As to that," replied the other, smiling, "we'll keep never minding—but you have spoken fairly and honestly on the subject of the letther, an' I'm thankful to you; still, Hycy, you haven't answered my first question—have you any ill feeling against me, or any intention to injure me?"
"Neither one nor the other. I pledge you my honor and word I have no ill feeling against you, nor any design to injure you."
"That's enough, Hycy," replied his companion; "I think I'm bound to believe your words."
"You are, Bryan; but will you allow me to ask if any one ever told you that I had—and if so, who was the person?"
"It's enough for you to know," said Bryan, "that whoever told it to me I don't believe it."
"I certainly have a right to know," returned Hycy; "but as the matter is false, and every way unfounded, I'll not press you upon it—all I can say to satisfy you is, what I have said already—that I entertain no ill will or unfriendly feeling towards you, and, consequently, can have no earthly intention of doing you an injury even if I could, although at the present moment I don't see how, even if I was willing."
"You have nothing particular that you'd wish to say to me?"
"No: devil a syllable."
"Nor a proposal of any kind to make me?"
Hycy pulled up his horse.
"Bryan, my good friend, let me look at you," he exclaimed. "Is it right to have you at large? My word and honor I'm beginning to fear that there's something wrong with your upper works."
"Never mind," replied Bryan, laughing, "I'm satisfied—the thing's a mistake—so there's my hand to you, Hycy. I've no suspicion of the kind against you and it's all right."
"What proposal, in heaven's name, could I have to make to you?" exclaimed Hycy..
"There now," continued Bryan, "that'll do; didn't I say I was satisfied? Move on, now and overtake your friend—by the way he's a fine horseman, they say?"
"Very few better," said Hycy; "but some there are—and one I know—ha! ha! ha! Good-bye, Bryan, and don't be made a fool of for nothing."
Bryan nodded and laughed, and Hycy dashed on to overtake his friend Clinton.
M'Mahon's way home lay by Gerald Cavanagh's house, near which as he approached he saw Nanny Peety in close conversation with Kate Hogan. The circumstance, knowing their relationship as he did, made no impression whatsoever upon him, nor would he have bestowed a thought upon it, had he been left to his own will in the matter. The women separated ere he had come within three hundred yards of them; Kate, who had evidently been convoying her niece a part of the way, having returned in the direction of Cavanagh's, leaving Nanny to pursue her journey home, by which she necessarily met M'Mahon.
"Well, Nanny," said the latter, "how are you?"
"Faix, very well, I thank you, Bryan; how are all the family in Carriglass?"
"Barring my mother, they're all well, Nanny. I was glad to hear you got so good a place, an' I'm still betther plaised to see you look so well—for it's a proof that you feel comfortable in it."
"Why I can't complain," she replied; "but you know there's no one widout their throubles."
"Troubles, Nanny," said Bryan, with surprise; "why surely, Nanny, barrin' it's love, I don't see what trouble you can have."
"Well, and may be it is," said the girl, smiling.
"Oh, in that case," replied Bryan, "I grant you're to be pitied; poor thing, you look so ill and pale upon it, too. An' what is it like, Nanny—this same love that's on you?"
"Faix," she replied, archly, "it's well for you that Miss Kathleen's not to the fore or you daren't ax any one sich a question as that."
"Well done, Nanny," he returned; "do you think she knows what it's like?"
"It's not me," she replied again, "you ought to be axin' sich a question from; if you don't know it I dunna who ought."
"Begad, you're sharp an' ready, Nanny," replied Bryan, laughing; "well, and how are you all in honest Jemmy Burke's?"
"Some of us good, some of us bad, and some of us indifferent, but, thank goodness, all in the best o' health."
"Good, bad, and indifferent," replied Bryan, pausing a little. "Well, now, Nanny, if one was to ask you who is the good in your family, what would you say?"
"Of coorse myself," she returned; "an' stay—let me see—ay, the masther, honest Jemmy, he and I have the goodness between us."
"And who's the indifferent, Nanny?"
"Wait," she replied; "yes—no doubt of it—if not worse—why the mistress must come in for that, I think."
"And now for the bad, Nanny?"
She shook her head before she spoke. "Ah," she proceeded, "there would be more in that house on the bad list than there is, if he, had his way."
"If who had his way?"
"Why is he the bad among you?"
"Thank God I know him now," she replied, "an' he knows I do; but he doesn't know how well I know him."
"Why, Nanny, are you in airnest?" asked Bryan, a good deal surprised, and not a little interested at what he heard, "surely I thought Mr. Hycy a good-hearted, generous young fellow that one could depend upon, at all events?"
"Ah, it's little you know him," she replied; "and I could"—she looked at him and paused.
"You could what?" he asked.
"I could tell you something, but I daren't."
"Daren't; why what ought you be afraid of?"
"It's no matther, I daren't an' thats enough; only aren't you an' Kathleen Cavanagh goin' to be married?"
"We will be married, I hope."
"Well, then, keep a sharp look-out, an take care her father an' mother doesn't turn against you some o' these days. There a many a slip between the cup and the lip; that's all I can say, an' more than I ought; an' if you ever mention my name, its murdhered I'll be."
"An' how is Hycy consarned in this? or is he consarned in it?"
"He is, an' he is not; I dursn't tell you more; but I'm not afraid of him, so far from that, I could soon—but what am I sayin'? Good-bye, an' as I said, keep a sharp lookout;" and having uttered these words, she tripped on hastily and left him exceedingly surprised at what she had said.
CHAPTER X.—More of the Hycy Correspondence
A Family Debate—Honest Speculations.
Kathleen's refusal to dance, at the kemp, with Hycy Burke, drew down upon her the loud and vehement indignation of her parents, both of whom looked upon a matrimonial alliance with the Burkes as an object exceedingly desirable, and such as would reflect considerable credit on themselves. Gerald Cavanagh and his wife were certainly persons of the strictest integrity and virtue. Kind, charitable, overflowing with hospitality, and remarkable for the domestic virtues and affections in an extraordinary degree, they were, notwithstanding, extremely weak-minded, and almost silly, in consequence of an over-weening anxiety to procure "great matches" for their children. Indeed it may be observed, that natural affection frequently assumes this shape in the paternal heart, nor is the vain ambition confined to the Irish peasant alone. On the contrary, it may be seen as frequently, if not more so, in the middle and higher classes, where it has ampler scope to work, than in humbler and more virtuous life. It is this proud and ridiculous principle which consigns youth, and beauty, and innocence, to the arms of some dissipated profligate of rank, merely because he happens to inherit a title which he disgraces. There is, we would wager, scarcely an individual who knows the world, but is acquainted with some family laboring under this insane anxiety for connection. Sometimes it is to be found on the paternal side, but, like most of those senseless inconsistencies which entail little else than ridicule or ruin, and sometimes both, upon those who are the object of them, it is, for the most part, a female attribute.
Such as it is, however, our friend, Gerald Cavanagh, and his wife—who, by the way, bore the domestic sceptre in all matters of importance—both possessed it in all its amplitude and vigor. When the kemp had been broken up that night, and the family assembled, Mrs. Cavanagh opened the debate in an oration of great heat and bitterness, but sadly deficient in moderation and logic.
"What on earth could you mane, Kathleen," she proceeded, "to refuse dancin' wid such a young man—a gintleman I ought to say—as Hycy Burke, the son of the wealthiest man in the whole parish, barring the gentry? Where is the girl that wouldn't bounce at him?—that wouldn't lave a single card unturned to secure him? Won't he have all his father's wealth?—won't he have all his land when the ould man dies? and indeed it's he that will live in jinteel style when he gets everything into his own hands, as he ought to do, an' not go dhramin' an' dhromin' about like his ould father, without bein' sartin whether he's alive or not. He would be something for you, girl, something to turn out wid, an' that one could feel proud out of; but indeed, Kathleen, as for pride and decency, you never had as much o' them as you ought, nor do you hold your head as high as many another girl in your place would do. Deed and throth I'm vexed at you, and ashamed of you, to go for to hurt his feelins as you did, widout either rhyme or raison."
"Troth," said her father, taking up the argument where she left it, "I dunno how I'll look the respectable young man in the face afther the way you insulted him. Why on airth wouldn't you dance wid him?"
"Because, father, I don't like him."
"An' why don't you like him?" asked her mother. "Where is there his aquil for either face or figure in the parish, or the barony itself? But I know the cause of it; you could dance with Bryan M'Mahon. But take this with you—sorra ring ever Bryan M'Mahon will put on you wid my consent or your father's, while there's any hope of Hycy Burke at any rate."
Kathleen, during this long harangue, sat smiling and sedate, turning her beautiful and brilliant eyes sometimes upon one parent, sometimes upon another, and occasionally glancing with imperturbable sweetness and good nature at her sister Hanna. At length, on getting an opportunity of speaking, she replied,—
"Don't ask me, mother, to give anything in the way of encouragement to Hycy Burke; don't ask me, I entrate you, for God's sake—the thing's impossible, and I couldn't do it. I have no wish for his father's money, nor any wish for the poor grandeur that you, mother dear, and my father, seem to set your heart upon. I don't like Hycy Burke—I could never like him; and rather than marry him, I declare solemnly to God, I would prefer going into my grave."
As she uttered the last words, which she did with an earnestness that startled them, her fine features became illuminated, as it were, with a serene and brilliant solemnity of expression that was strikingly impressive and beautiful.
"Why couldn't you like him, now?" asked her father; "sure, as your mother says, there's not his aquil for face or figure within many a mile of him?"
"But it's neither face nor figure that I look to most, father."
"Well, but think of his wealth, and the style he'll live in, I'll go bail, when he gets married."
"That style maybe won't make his wife happy. No, father, it's neither face, nor figure, nor style that I look to, but truth, pure affection, and upright principle; now, I know that Hycy Burke has neither truth, nor affection, nor principle; an' I wondher, besides, that you could think of my ever marrying a man that has already destroyed the happiness of two innocent girls, an' brought desolation, an' sorrow, an' shame upon two happy families. Do you think that I will ever become the wife of a profligate? An' is it you, father, an' still more you, mother, that's a woman, that can urge me to think of joining my fate to that of a man that has neither shame nor principle? I thought that if you didn't respect decency an' truth, and a regard for what is right and proper, that, at all events, you would respect the feelings of your child that was taught their value."
Both parents felt somewhat abashed by the force of the truth and the evident superiority of her character; but in a minute or two her worthy father, from whose dogged obstinacy she inherited the firmness and resolution for which she had ever been remarkable, again returned to the subject.
"If Hycy Burke was wild, Kathleen, so was many a good man before him; an' that's no raison but he may turn out well yet, an' a credit to his name, as I have no doubt he will. All that he did was only folly an' indiscretion—we can't be too hard or uncharitable upon our fellow-craytures."
"No," chimed in her mother, "we can't. Doesn't all the world know that a reformed rake makes a good husband?—an' besides, didn't them two huzzies bring it on themselves?—why didn't they keep from him as they ought? The fault, in such cases, is never all on one side."
Kathleen's brow and face and whole neck became crimson, as her mother, in the worst spirit of a low and degrading ambition, uttered the sentiments we have just written. Hanna had been all this time sitting beside her, with one arm on her shoulder; but Kathleen, now turning round, laid her face on her sister's bosom, and, with a pressure that indicated shame and bitterness of heart, she wept. Hanna returned this melancholy and distressing caress in the same mournful spirit, and both wept together in silence.
Gerald Cavanagh was the first who felt something like shame at the rebuke conveyed by this tearful embrace of his pure-hearted and ingenuous daughters, and he said, addressing his wife:—
"We're wrong to defend him, or any one, for the evil he has done, bekaise it can't be defended; but, in the mane time, every day will bring him more sense an' experience, an' he won't repute this work; besides, a wife would settle him down."
"But, father," said Hanna, now speaking for the first time, "there's one thing that strikes me in the business you're talkin' about, an' it's this—how do you know whether Hycy Burke has any notion, good, bad, or indifferent, of marrying Kathleen?"
"Why," replied her mother, "didn't he write to her upon the subject?"
"Why, indeed, mother, it's not an easy thing to answer that question," replied Hanna. "She sartinly resaved a letther from him, an' indeed, I think," she added, her animated face brightening into a smile, "that as the boys is gone to bed, we had as good read it."
"No, Hanna, darling, don't," said Kathleen—"I beg you won't read it."
"Well, but I beg I will," she replied; "it'll show them, at any rate, what kind of a reformation is likely to come over him. I have it here in my pocket—ay, this is it. Now, father," she proceeded, looking at the letter, "here is a letter, sent to my sister—'To Miss Cavanagh,' that's what's on the back of it—and what do you think Hycy, the sportheen, asks her to do for him?"
"Why, I suppose," replied her mother, "to run away wid him?"
"Then to give her consent to marry him?" said her father.
"Both out," replied Hanna; "no, indeed, but to lend him five-and-thirty pounds to buy a mare, called Crazy Jane, belonging to Tom Burton, of the Race Road!"
"'My Dear Bryan—For heaven's sake, in addition to your other generosities—for-which I acknowledge myself still in your debt—will you lend me thirty-five pounds, to secure a beautiful mare belonging to Tom Burton, of the Race Road? She is a perfect creature, and will, if I am not quick, certainly slip through my fingers. Jemmy, the gentleman'—
"This is what he calls his father, you must know.
"'Jemmy, the gentleman, has promised to stand to me some of these days, and pay off all my transgressions, like a good, kind-hearted, soft-headed old Trojan as he is; and, for this reason, I don't wish to press him now. The mare is sold under peculiar circumstances; otherwise I could have no chance of her at such a price. By the way, when did you see Katsey'—
"Ay, Katsey!—think of that, now—doesn't he respect your daughter very much, father?
"'By the way, when did you see Katsey Cavanagh?—'"
"What is this you're readin' to me?" asked her father. "You don't mean to say that this letter is to Kathleen?"
"Why, no; but so much the better—one has an opportunity now of seein' what he is made of. The letter was intended for Bryan M'Mahon; but he sent it, by mistake, to Kathleen. Listen—-
"'When did you see Katsey Cavanagh? She certainly is not ill-looking, and will originate you famous mountaineers. Do, like a good fellow, stand by me at this pinch, and I will drink your health and Kat-sey's, and that you may—' (what's this?) 'col—colonize Ahadarra with a race of young Colossusses that the world will wonder at.
"Here's more, though: listen, mother, to your favorite, that you want to marry Kathleen to:—
"'P.S. I will clear scores with you for all in the course of a few months, and remember that, at your marriage, I must, with my own hand, give you away to Katsey, the fair Oolossa.'"
The perusal of this document, at least so far as they could understand it, astonished them not a little. Until they heard it read, both had been of the opinion that Hycy had actually proposed for Kathleen, or at least felt exceedingly anxious for the match.
"An' does he talk about givin' her away to Bryan M'Mahon?" asked her mother. Sorrow on his impidence!—Bryan M'Mahon indeed! Throth, it's not upon his country side of wild mountain that Kathleen will go to live. An' maybe, too, she has little loss in the same Hycy, for, afther all, he's but a skite of a fellow, an' a profligate into the bargain."
"Paix an' his father," said Gerald—"honest Jemmy—tould me that he'd have it a match whether or not."
"His father did!" exclaimed Mrs. Cavanagh; "now, did he say so, Gerald?"
"Well, in troth he did—said that he had I set his heart upon it, an' that if she hadn't a gown to her back he'd make him marry her."
"The Lord direct us for the best!" exclaimed his wife, whose opinion of the matter at this last piece of information had again changed in favor of Hycy. "Sure, afther all, one oughtn't to be too sevare on so young a man. However, as the sayin' is, 'time will tell,' an' Kathleen's own good sense will show her what a match he'd be."
The sisters then retired to bed; but before they went, Kathleen approached her mother, and putting an open palm affectionately upon each of the good woman's cheeks, said, in a voice in which there was deep feeling and affection:—
"Good-night, mother dear! I'm sure you love me, an' I know it is because you do that you spake in this way; but I know, too, that you wouldn't make me unhappy and miserable for the wealth of the world, much less for Hycy Burke's share of it. There's a kiss for you, and good-night!—there's another for you, father; God bless you! and good-night, too. Come, Hanna darling, come!"
In this state matters rested for some time. Bryan M'Mahon, however, soon got an opportunity of disclosing his intentions to Kathleen, if that can be called disclosing, which was tolerably well known for a considerable time previous to the disclosure. Between them it was arranged that he and his father should make a formal proposal of marriage to her parents, as the best means of bringing the matter to a speedy issue. Before this was done, however, Gerald, at the instigation of his wife, contrived once more to introduce the subject as if by accident, in a conversation with Jemmy Burke, who repeated his anxiety for the match as the best way of settling down his son, and added, that he would lay the matter before Hycy himself, with a wish that a union should take place between them. This interview with old Burke proved a stumbling-block in the way of M'Mahon. At length, after a formal proposal on the behalf of Bryan, and many interviews with reference to it, something like a compromise was effected. Kathleen consented to accept the latter in marriage, but firmly and resolutely refused to hear Burke's name as a lover or suitor mentioned. Her parents, however, hoping that their influence over her might ultimately prevail, requested that she would not engage herself to any one for two years, at the expiration of which period, if no change in her sentiments should take place, she was to be at liberty to marry M'Mahon. For the remainder of the summer and autumn, and up until November, the period at which our narrative has now arrived, or, in other words, when Bryan M'Mahon met Nanny Peety, matters had rested precisely in the same position. This unexpected interview with the mendicant's daughter, joined to the hints he had already received, once more caused M'Mahon to feel considerably perplexed with regard to Hycy Burke. The coincidence was very remarkable, and the identity of the information, however limited, appeared to him to deserve all the consideration which he could bestow upon it, but above all things he resolved, if possible, to extract the secret out of Nanny Peety.
One cause of Hycy Burke's extravagance was a hospitable habit of dining and giving dinners in the head inn of Ballymacan. To ask any of his associates to his father's house was only to expose the ignorance of his parents, and this his pride would not suffer him to do. As a matter of course he gave all his dinners, unless upon rare occasions, in Jack Shepherd's excellent inn; but as young Clinton and he were on terms of the most confidential intimacy, he had asked him to dine on the day in question at his father's.
"You know, my dear Harry," he said to his friend, "there is no use in striving to conceal the honest vulgarity of Jemmy the gentleman from you who know it already. I may say ditto to madam, who is unquestionably the most vulgar of the two—for, and I am sorry to say it, in addition to a superabundant stock of vulgarity, she has still a larger assortment of the prides; for instance, pride of wealth, of the purse, pride of—I was going to add, birth—ha! ha! ha!—of person, ay, of beauty, if you please—of her large possessions—but that comes under the purse again—and lastly—but that is the only well-founded principle among them—of her accomplished son, Hycy. This, now, being all within your cognizance already, my dear Hal, you take a pig's cheek and a fowl with me to-day. There will be nobody but ourselves, for when I see company at home I neither admit the gentleman nor the lady to table. Damn it, you know the thing would be impossible. If you wish it, however, we shall probably call in the gentleman after dinner to have a quiz with him; it may relieve us. I can promise you a glass of wine, too, and that's another reason why we should keep him aloof until the punch comes. The wine's always a sub silencio affair, and, may heaven pity me, I get growling enough from old Bruin on other subjects."
"Anything you wish, Hycy, I am your man; but somehow I don't relish the idea of the quiz you speak of. 'Children, obey your parents,' says Holy Scripture; and I'd as soon not help a young fellow to laugh at his father."
"A devilish good subject he is, though—but you must know that I can draw just distinctions, Hal. For instance, I respect his honesty—"
"And copy it, eh?"
"Certainly—I respect his integrity, too—in fact, I appreciate all his good qualities, and only laugh at his vulgarity and foibles."
"You intend to marry, Hycy?"
"Or, in other words, to call you brother some of these days."
"And to have sons and daughters?"
"Please the fates."
"That will do," replied Clinton, dryly.
"Ho! ho!" said Hycy, "I see. Here's a mentor with a vengeance—a fellow with a budget of morals cut and dry for immediate use—but hang all morality, say I; like some of my friends that talk on the subject, I have an idiosyncrasy of constitution against it, but an abundant temperament for pleasure."
"That's a good definition," said Clinton; "a master-touch, a very correct likeness, indeed. I would at once know you from it, and so would most of your friends."
"This day is Friday," said Hycy, "more growling."
"Why, when I eat meat on a Friday, the pepper and sauce cost me nothing. The 'gentlemen' lays on hard, but the lady extenuates, 'in regard to it's bein' jinteel.'"
"Well, but you have certainly no scruple yourself on the subject?"
"Yes, I have, sir, a very strong one—in favor of the meat—ha! ha! ha!"
"D—n me, whoever christened you Hycy the accomplished, hit you off."
"I did myself; because you must know, my worthy Hal, that, along with all my other accomplishments, I am my own priest.'
"And that is the reason why you hate the clergy? eh—ha! ha! ha!"
"A hit, a hit, I do confess."
"Harke, Mr. Priest, will you give absolution—to Tom Corbet?"
"Ah! Hal, no more an' thou lovest me—that sore is yet open. Curse the villain. My word and honor, Hal, the gentleman' was right there. He told me at the first glance what she was. Here comes a shower, let us move on, and reach Ballymacan, if possible, before it falls. We shall be home in fair time for dinner afterwards, and then for my proposal, which, by the word and honor—"
"Nonsense, Harry; is a man to speak nothing but truth or Scripture in this world?—No—which I say by the honor of a gentleman, it will be your interest to consider and accept."
"Very well, most accomplished. We shall see, and we shall hear, and then we shall determine."
A ham and turkey were substituted for the pig's cheek and fowl, and we need not say that Hycy and his friend accepted of the substitution with great complacency. Dinner having been discussed, and a bottle of wine finished, the punch came in, and each, after making himself a stiff tumbler, acknowledged that he felt comfortable. Hycy, however, anxious that he should make an impression, or in other words gain his point, allowed Clinton to grow a little warm with liquor before he opened the subject to which he had alluded. At length, when he had reached the proper elevation, he began:—
"There's no man, my dear Harry, speaks apparently more nonsense than I do in ordinary chat and conversation. For instance, to-day I was very successful in it; but no matter, I hate seriousness, certainly, when there is no necessity for it. However, as a set-off to that, I pledge you my honor that no man can be more serious when it is necessary than myself. For instance, you let out a matter to me the other night that you probably forget now. You needn't stare—I am serious enough and honorable enough to keep as an inviolable secret everything of the kind that a man may happen to disclose in an unguarded moment."
"Go on, Hycy, I don't forget it—I don't, upon my soul."
"I allude to M'Mahon's farm in Ahadarra."
"I don't forget it; but you know, Hycy, my boy, I didn't mention either M'Mahon or Ahadarra."
"You certainly did not mention them exactly; but, do you think I did not know at once both the place and the party you allude to? My word and honor, I saw them at a glance."
"Very well, go on with your word and honor;—you are right, I did mean M'Mahon and Ahadarra—proceed, most accomplished, and most moral—"
"Be quiet, Harry. Well, you have your eye upon that farm, and you say you have a promise of it."
"Something like it; but the d—d landlord, Chevydale, is impracticable—so my uncle says—and doesn't wish to disturb the M'Mahons, although he has been shown that it is his interest to do so—but d—n the fellow, neither he nor one of his family ever look to their interests—d—n the fellow, I say."
"Don't curse or swear, most moral. Well, the lease of Ahadarra has dropped, and of Carriglass too;—with Carriglass, however, we—that is you—have nothing at all to do."
"Now, I have already told you my affection for your sister, and I have not been able to get either yes or no out of you."
"What do you mean?"
"That you have not been able to get yes or no out of me—proceed, most accomplished. Where do you get your brandy? This is glorious. Well!"
"Now, as you have a scruple against taking the farm in any but a decent way, if I undertake to manage matters so as that Bryan M'Mahon shall be obliged to give up his farm, will you support my suit with Miss Clinton?"
"How will you do it?"
"That is what you shall not know; but the means are amply within my power. You know my circumstances, and that I shall inherit all my father's property."
"Come; I shall hold myself neuter—will that satisfy you? You shall have a clear stage and no favor, which, if you be a man of spirit, is enough."
"Yes; but it is likely I may require your advocacy with Uncle; and, besides, I know the advantage of having an absent friend well and favorably spoken of, and all his good points brought out."
"Crazy Jane and Tom Burton, to wit; proceed, most ingenuous!"
"Curse them both! Will you promise this—to support me so far?"
"Egad, Hycy, that's a devilish pretty girl that attends us with the hot water, and that waited on us at dinner—eh?"
"Come, come, Master Harry, 'ware spring-guns there; keep quiet. You don't answer?"
"But, worthy Hycy, what if Maria should reject you—discard you—give you to the winds?—eh?"
"Even in that case, provided you support me honestly, I shall hold myself bound to keep my engagement with you, and put M'Mahon out as a beggar."
"What! as a beggar?"
"Ay, as a beggar; and then no blame could possibly attach to you for succeeding him, and certainly no suspicion."
"Hum! as a beggar. But the poor fellow never offended me. Confound it, he never offended me, nor any one else as far as I know. I don't much relish that, Hycy."
"It cannot be done though in any other way."
"I say—how do you call that girl?—Jenny, or Peggy, or Molly, or what?"
"I wish to heaven you could be serious, Harry. If not, I shall drop the subject altogether."
"There now—proceed, O Hyacinthus."
"How can I proceed, when you won't pay attention to me; or, what is more, to your own interests?"
"Oh! my own interests!—well I am alive to them."
"Is it a bargain, then?"
"It is a bargain, most ingenuous, most subtle, and most conscientious Hycy! Enable me to enter upon the farm of Ahadarra—to get possession of it—and calculate upon my most—let me see—what's the best word—most strenuous advocacy. That's it: there's my hand upon it. I shall support you, Hycy; but, at the same time, you must not hold me accountable for my sister's conduct. Beyond fair and reasonable persuasion, she must be left perfectly free and uncontrolled in whatever decision she may come to."
"There's my hand, then, Harry; I can ask no more."
After Clinton had gone, Hycy felt considerably puzzled as to the manner in which he had conducted himself during the whole evening. Sometimes he imagined he was under the influence of liquor, for he had drunk pretty freely; and again it struck him that he manifested an indifference to the proposal made to him, which he only attempted to conceal lest Hycy might perceive it. He thought, however, that he observed a seriousness in Clinton, towards the close of their conversation, which could not have been assumed; and as he gave himself a good deal of credit for penetration, he felt satisfied that circumstances were in a proper train, and likely, by a little management, to work out his purposes.
Hycy, having bade him good night at the hall-door, returned again to the parlor, and called Nanny Peety—"Nanny," said he, "which of the Hogans did you see to-day?"
"None o' them, sir, barrin' Kate: they wor all out."
"Did you give her the message?"
"Why, sir, if it can be called a message, I did."
"What did you say, now?"
"Why, I tould her to tell whichever o' them she happened to see first, that St. Pether was dead."
"And what did she say to that?"
"Why, sir, she said it would be a good story for you if he was."
"And what did she mean by that, do you think?"
"Faix, then, I dunna—barrin' that you're in the black books wid him, and that you'd have a better chance of gettin' in undher a stranger that didn't know you."
"Nanny," he replied, laughing, "you are certainly a very smart girl, and indeed a very pretty girl—a very interesting young woman, indeed, Nanny; but you won't listen to reason."
"To raison, sir, I'll always listen; but not to wickedness or evil."
"Will you have a glass of punch? I hope there is neither wickedness nor evil in that."
"I'm afraid, sir, that girls like me have often found to their cost too much of both in it. Thank you, Masther Hycy, but I won't have it; you know I won't."
"So you will stand in your own light, Nanny?"
"I hope not, sir; and, wanst for all, Mr. Hycy, there's no use in spakin' to me as you do. I'm a poor humble girl, an' has nothing but my character to look to."
"And is that all you're afraid of, Nanny?"
"I'm afear'd of Almighty God, sir: an' if you had a little fear of Him, too, Mr. Hycy, you wouldn't spake to me as you do."
"Why, Nanny, you're almost a saint on our hands."
"I'm glad to hear it, sir, for the sinners is plenty enough."
"Very good, Nanny; well said. Here's half a crown to reward your wit."
"No, no, Mr. Hycy: I'm thankful to you; but you know I won't take it."
"Nanny, are you aware that it was I who caused you to be taken into this family?"
"No," sir; "but I think it's very likely you'll be the cause of my going out of it."
"It certainly is not improbable, Nanny. I will have no self-willed, impracticable girls here."
"You won't have me here long, then, unless you mend your manners, Mr. Hycy."
"Well, well, Nanny; let us not quarrel at all events. I will be late out to-night, so that you must sit up and let me in. No, no, Nanny, we must not quarrel; and if I have got fond of you, how can I help it? It's very natural thing, you know, to love a pretty girl."
"But not so natural to lave her, Mr. Hycy, as you have left others before now—I needn't name them—widout name, or fame, or hope, or happiness in this world."
"I won't be in until late, Nanny," he replied, coolly. "Sit up for me. You're a sharp one, but I can't spare you yet a while;" and, having nodded to her with a remarkably benign aspect he went out.
"Ay," said she, after he had gone; "little you know, you hardened and heartless profligate, how well I'm up to your schemes. Little you know that I heard your bargain this evenin' wid Clinton, and that you're now gone to meet the Hogans and Teddy Phats upon some dark business, that can't be good or they wouldn't be in it; an' little you know what I know besides. Anybody the misthress plaises may sit up for you, but I won't."
CHAPTEE XI.—Death of a Virtuous Mother.
It could not be expected that Bryan M'Mahon, on his way home from Fethertonge's, would pass Gerald Cavanagh's without calling. He had, in his interview with that gentleman, stated the nature of his mother's illness, but at the same time without feeling any serious apprehensions that her life was in immediate danger. On reaching Cavanagh's, he found that family over-+shadowed with a gloom for which he could not account. Kathleen received him gravely, and even Hanna had not her accustomed jest. After looking around him for a little, he exclaimed—"What is the matther? Is anything wrong? You all look as if you were in sorrow."
Hanna approached him and said, whilst her eyes filled with tears—"We are in sorrow, Bryan; for we are goin', we doubt, to lose a friend that we all love—as every one did that knew her."
"Hanna, darling," said Kathleen, "this won't do. Poor girl! you are likely to make bad worse; and besides there may, after all, be no real danger. Your mother, Bryan," she proceeded, "is much worse than she has been. The priest and doctor have been sent for; but you know it doesn't follow that there is danger, or at any rate that the case is hopeless."
"Oh, my God!" exclaimed Bryan, "is it so? My mother—and such a mother! Kathleen, my heart this minute tells me it is hopeless. I must leave you—I must go."
"We will go up with you," said Kathleen. "Hanna, we will go up; for, if she is in danger, I would like to get the blessing of such a woman before she dies; but let us trust in G-od she won't die, and that it's only a sudden attack that will pass away."
"Do so, Kathleen," said her mother; "and you can fetch us word how she is. May the Lord bring her safe over it at any rate; for surely the family will break their hearts afther her, an' no wondher, for where was her fellow?"
Bryan was not capable of hearing these praises, which he knew to be so well and so justly her due, with firmness; nor could he prevent his tears, unless by a great effort, from bearing testimony to the depth of his grief. Kathleen's gaze, however, was turned on him with an expression which gave him strength; for indeed there was something noble and. sustaining in the earnest and consoling sympathy which he read in her dark and glorious eye. On their way to Carriglass there was little spoken. Bryan's eye every now and then sought that of Kathleen; and he learned, for the first time, that it is only in affliction that the exquisite tenderness of true and disinterested love can be properly appreciated and felt. Indeed he wondered at his own sensations; for in proportion as his heart became alarmed at the contemplation of his mother's loss, he felt, whenever he looked upon Kathleen, that it also burned towards her with greater tenderness and power—so true is it that sorrow and suffering purify and exalt all our nobler and better emotions.
Bryan and his companions, ere they had time to reach the house, were seen and. recognized by the family, who, from the restlessness and uncertainty which illness usually occasions, kept moving about and running out from time to time to watch the arrival of the priest or doctor. On this occasion Dora came to meet them; but, alas! with what a different spirit from that which animated her on the return of her father from the metropolis. Her gait was now slow, her step languid; and they could perceive that, as she approached them, she wiped away the tears. Indeed her whole appearance was indicative of the state of her mother; when they met her, her bitter sobbing and the sorrowful earnestness of manner with which she embraced the sisters, wore melancholy assurances that the condition of the sufferer was not improved. Hanna joined her tears with hers; but Kathleen, whose sweet voice in attempting to give the affectionate girl consolation, was more than once almost shaken out of its firmness, did all she could to soothe and relieve her.
On entering the house, they found a number of the neighboring females assembled, and indeed the whole family, in consequence of the alarm and agitation visible them, might not inaptly be compared to a brood of domestic fowl when a hawk, bent on destruction, is seen hovering over their heads.
As is usual with Catholic families in their state of life, there were several of those assembled, and also some of themselves, at joint prayer in different parts of the house; and seated by her bedside was her youngest son, Art, engaged, with sobbing voice and eyes every now and then blinded with tears, in the perusal, for her comfort, of Prayers for the Sick. Tom M'Mahon himself went about every now and then clasping his hands, and turning up his eyes to heaven in a distracted manner, exclaiming—"Oh! Bridget, Bridget, is it come to this at last! And you're lavin' me—you're lavin' me! Oh, my God! what will I do—how will I live, an' what will become of me!"
On seeing Bryan, he ran to him and said,—"Oh! Bryan, to what point will I turn?—where will I get consolation?—how will I bear it? Sure, she was like a blessin' from heaven among us; ever full of peace, and charity, and goodness—the kind word an' the sweet smile to all; but to me—to me—oh! Bridget, Bridget, I'd rather die than live afther you!"
"Father, dear, your takin' it too much to heart," replied Bryan; "who knows but God may spare her to us still? But you know that even if it's His will to remove her from amongst us"—his voice here failed him for a moment—"hem—to remove her from amongst us, it's our duty to submit to it; but I hope in God she may recover still. Don't give way to sich grief till we hear what the docthor will say, at all events. How did she complain or get ill; for I think she wasn't worse when I left home?"
"It's all in her stomach," replied his father. "She was seized wid cramps in her stomach, an' she complains very much of her head; but her whole strength is gone, she can hardly spake, and she has death in her face."
At this moment his brother Michael came to them, and said—"Bryan—Bryan"—but he could proceed no farther.
"Whisht, Michael," said the other; "this is a shame; instead of supportin' and cheer-in' my father, you're only doing him harm. I tell you all that you'll find there's no raison for this great grief. Be a man, Michael—"
"She has heard your voice," proceeded his brother, "and wishes to see you."
This proof of her affection for him, at the very moment when he was attempting to console others, was almost more than he could bear. Bryan knew that he himself had been her favorite son, so far as a heart overflowing with kindness and all the tender emotions that consecrate domestic life and make up its happiness, could be said to have a favorite. There was, however, that almost imperceptible partiality, which rarely made its appearance unless in some slight and inconsiderable circumstances, but which, for that very reason, was valuable in proportion to its delicacy and the caution with which it was guarded. Always indeed in some quiet and inoffensive shape was the partiality she bore him observable; and sometimes it consisted in a postponement of his wishes or comforts to those of her other children, because she felt that she might do with him that which she could not with the others—thus calculating as it were upon his greater affection. But it is wonderful to reflect in how many ways, and through what ingenious devices the human heart can exhibit its tenderness.
Arthur, as Bryan entered, had concluded the devotions he had been reading for her, and relinquished to him the chair he had occupied. On approaching, he was at once struck by the awful change for the worse, which so very brief a period had impressed upon her features. On leaving home that morning she appeared to be comparatively strong, and not further diminished in flesh than a short uneasy ailment might naturally occasion. But now her face, pallid and absolutely emaciated, had shrunk into half its size, and was, beyond all possibility of hope or doubt, stamped with the unequivocal impress of death.
Bryan, in a state which it is impossible to describe and very difficult to conceive, took her hand, and after a short glance at her features, now so full of ghastliness and the debility which had struck her down, he stooped, and, kissing her lips, burst out into wild and irrepressible sorrow.
"Bryan, dear," she said, after a pause, and when his grief had somewhat subsided, "why will you give way to this? Sure it was on you I placed my dependence—I hoped that, instead of settin' the rest an example for weakness, you'd set them one that they might and ought to follow—I sent for you, Bryan, to make it my request that, if it's the will of God to take me from among you, you might support an' console the others, an' especially your poor father; for I needn't tell you that along wid the pain I'm bearin', my heart is sore and full o sorrow for what I know he'll suffer when I'm gone. May the Lord pity and give him strength!—for I can say on my dyin' bed that, from the first day I ever seen his face until now, he never gave me a harsh word or an unkind look, an' that you all know."